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Higher Education Institutions - Shelters for Transformation

09 January 2013, 08:11

On the 27 September 2012, Rector of the University of Free State Professor Jonathan Jansen wrote an insightful article titled “What leadership qualities do you, as students, need to be credible and effective in a country like yours and on a campus like ours?” He gave two qualities that he felt were imperative and practical for student leaders in South Africa’s higher education institutions. In this article, I will reflect on the reality of these two qualities in the context of South Africa’s higher education institutions.

A commitment to humanity that is not predicated on colour, creed, culture, class or campus.

The social and economic inequalities of students entering Universities should not be ignored. Humanity can only be defined and pursued by those who understand the philosophy of ‘Ubuntu’ – I am because we are. Indeed, given the racial and cultural history of South Africa, we cannot assume that entering into higher education all those social pains heal – prospective students come from diverse homes where various perceptions are carried. The commitment to humanity is a collective challenging among the all those in a University environment. The Faculties, Departments and various research units need to carry out a visible mandate of diversity in all their activities. Lectures and researchers are obligated to contribute to the transformation of South Africa’s education – they ought to be eager to assist and engage in knowledge production for the benefit of South Africa. Student must be responsible to achieve and perform beyond their expectations; they should accommodate those with difficulties, helps those in need and be willing to share their expertise regardless of class or race. Scholars across South Africa must be dedicated to humanity. It will not be easy, but it is possible to have diverse and harmonious campuses of higher education – vigorously promoting and calling for transformation for the betterment of all.

A commitment to justice, recognizing inequalities and poverty among us.

Poverty is reality to thousands of students entering into higher education institutions for the first time, some students are the first in their families to get this far in education. Hence, we cannot blind ourselves to the reality that many students send half if not quarter of their monthly allowances from the National Financial Aid Scheme back home to support their orphaned relatives, unemployed parents and struggling community members. We need to recognize that inequality exists and it does hinder the success of those trapped in this cycle. Students in higher education are the most important members of our society, due to their contribution to knowledge production and research output. If South Africa cannot produce academics, then who will elucidate our endless social complexities, our unstable economy and disturbing political unsettlement? We need to be conscious that justice is color blind, it does not judge according to your class, location or expertise. Justice is served without prejudice or nepotism, justice is the platform in which we can examine our constitutional democracy.  Once again the importance of humanity is crucial in campuses; students must begin to transcend boundaries that stop strong friendship bonds, collective action and active citizenry. South Africa is desperate for critical thinkers and writers of our new democratic history.

Let us hope the newly established Department of Higher Education will accelerate its mandate of transformation, by being more attentive to the issues of inequality, humanity and poverty within institutions of Higher Education. Conversation and public debates are much needed in order to heal our social pain as a Nation. Dr Mamphela Ramphele asserts that South Africa’s inability to outstand is due to the buried past experiences of many citizens, those emotions and feelings still haunt them today. Campuses of Higher Education must be shelters of transformation. 

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